It is as if a dam has burst. The last few days have seen an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity with Palestinians from artists and cultural organisations around the world. Half a century ago, there was massive support for a cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa. Now, artists and cultural workers are mobilising on a similar scale against Israel’s system of apartheid, calling variously for boycotts, practical acts of solidarity with Palestinians and, in particular, an end to co-operation with cultural organisations that are complicit with apartheid.
On May 23rd, ‘Against Apartheid’, a letter signed by many leading Palestinian authors and artists, was endorsed by more than 1,300 international artists, writers and actors including Sally Rooney, Deborah Levy, Cornelia Parker, Alejandro Iñárritu, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons, Richard Ford, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alia Shawkat, and Tony Kushner. The letter, which referenced the 2021 report by Human Rights Watch which found Israel guilty of ‘crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution’, said:
‘We call on activists, and especially our peers in the arts, to exercise their agency within their institutions and localities to support the Palestinian struggle for decolonization to the best of their ability. Israeli apartheid is sustained by international complicity, it is our collective responsibility to redress this harm’.
May 25th saw more than 500 visual artists each posting a statement with the hashtag #VisualArtsforPalestine. The statement pledged to
‘refuse to exhibit or sell to Israeli and international arts institutions that are complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses’.
The artists included 2019 Turner Prize winners Tai Shani, Lawrence Abu-Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Oscar Murillo, as well as Meriem Benani, Juliana Huxtable, Cassils, Patrick Staff, Yto Barrada, Luke Fowler, Eddie Peake, Oreet Ashery, Harold Offeh, Andrew Kotting, Georgina Starr, John Smith, Benedict Drew and White Pube.
Meanwhile, London’s The Mosaic Rooms published a call to cultural organisations, artists and writers that attracted hundreds of signatures including Francis Alÿs, Jeremy Deller, Elizabeth Price, Mark Wallinger, Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.), Guerilla Girls, Rosalind Nashashibi, Larry Achiampong, Adam Chodzko, Paul Hobson, Director of Modern Art Oxford; Jonathan Watkins, Director of Ikon Gallery; Sarah McCrory, Director of Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art; Judith Carlton, Director of Southwark Park Galleries, and Barjeel Art Foundation.
Their statement read:
‘As an artist, writer, thinker or worker in an institution, you have the agency to share information and to implement change.’
It asked signatories to commit to several actions including:
Refuse: funding from the Israeli government and from private funders who support its illegal occupation.
Language: use terms which make visible the Palestinian experience, including Palestine, occupation, dispossession, ethnic cleansing, settler colonialism, and apartheid.
Open: your programme and your collection to artists, collectives, initiatives and galleries who are led by non-mainstream or radical voices, including artists in Palestine, and fund and support their participation.
Elsewhere in the art world, ArtForum and Hyperallergic reported that the 600+ artists, activists, curators, writers, and gallerists who make up ‘BDZ’, or the Boycott/Divest Zabludowicz group, had condemned the forced displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem, and reiterated their call for arts professionals to boycott the Zabludowicz Arts Trust. The artists denounced Poju Zabludowicz’s ties to the pro-Israel lobby and the Israeli Air Force. Their statement explained:
‘All contracts drawn up with the Zabludowicz Arts Trust are simultaneously contracts drawn up with Tamares Group1. All cultural engagement with the Zabludowicz Arts Trust – from artistic sales to gallery visits, from online promotion to project commissions – are complicit with structural oppression.’
On May 27th, a group of over 600 musicians calling themselves #MusiciansForPalestine published an open letter. The letter brought together an extraordinary range of artists including Rage Against the Machine, Patti Smith, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Arcade Fire, Run the Jewels, Noname, Chromeo, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Fred Wreck, and A-Trak. The artists said:
‘We call for you to join us in refusing to perform at Israel’s complict cultural organisations and by standing firm in your support of the Palestinian people and their human right to sovereignty and freedom’
On May 28th the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers announced its’ support for the Palestinian-led movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and urged cultural workers to collectively withhold their labour in solidarity with Palestinians.
After demonstrations by Palestinian citizens of Israel were violently suppressed by Israeli police and groups of racist thugs began attacking Palestinians on the street and in their homes, the pioneering Palestinian hip-hop group DAM launched an appeal (May 13th) on behalf of the the Palestinian community in Lydda, calling for ‘International protection now for the Indigenous Palestinians from Israeli state-sanctioned pogroms!’
‘We, members of the Palestinian hip-hop band DAM, living in Lydda (Lydd), survived with our brothers & sisters in Lydda, Ramla, Haifa, Jaffa, Akka and elsewhere, a racist attack by far-right Israeli extremists last night. We join the majority of our people in calling for immediate international intervention to defend us before it is too late.’
More than 1,000 international cultural figures went on to sign a statement in solidarity with the community of Lydda, which was published on May 25th. Signatories included artists Molly Crabapple and Rehab Nazzal; scholars Judith Butler and Angela Davis; and authors Rachel Kushner and Ottessa Moshfegh.
At the same time, other groups of cultural workers were mobilising. Members of the children’s picture book industry KidLit4Palestine published an open letter, ‘Solidarity with Palestinian Liberation’. It said:
‘We note that the industry has largely maintained its silence on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine’
and stated that its’ signatories
‘stand unequivocally in solidarity with Palestinians as they resist colonisation’.
Architects and planners also spoke out fiercely, in a statement entitled: Architecture and Urban Planning Organizations Stand in Solidarity for Palestine. Signed by over 250 organisations from around the world, it said:
“We recognise that architecture and planning continue to be used by Israel to consolidate and extend its illegal occupation of Palestinian”
It went on:
‘We commit to amplify the voices, stories, and histories of Palestinian people in their struggle for justice and freedom from occupation, through the following:
1. Pressuring our institutions to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions and refusing to engage in partnerships with entities that enact or implement Israel’s apartheid policies.
2. Supporting student, faculty and staff activism for justice in Palestine
3. Holding accountable those who undermine academic freedom within our institution by silencing, threatening or bullying students, staff, and faculty who speak up against Israeli State violence
4. As we teach about architecture and planning’s complicity in settler colonialism and apartheid, we commit to teaching about Palestine by centering Palestinian scholarship and experience’.
The Arab Free Cinema Network released a statement on May 22nd, asserting their belief in cinema ‘as a form of resistance’ and affirming their support for the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). They stated their refusal to cooperate with Israeli film festivals, and called on other film-makers to do the same.
Artists for Palestine UK launched the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine in 2015. It has attracted over 1400 signatories from across the arts, many in the past two weeks, with artists committing to refuse to work with complicit Israeli organisations. We are proud to play our part amid the inspiring groundswell of solidarity and pressure for meaningful change.
We salute the commitment and energy of so many artists, activists and organisations working together to further the cause of justice and freedom for Palestinians.
1 Zabludowicz Arts Trust was founded by Poju Zabludowicz, the founder, major funder, and former director of BICOM (Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre). BICOM lobbies the UK government, the main political parties in the UK and the British mainstream media on behalf of Israel. Poju is also founder and director of Tamares Group, a global private investment group with real estate interests that in the past have included illegal settlements on Palestinian land. In 1994, Poju inherited his family arms dealing business and most of the defence interests were sold. Today, it is now controlled through Tamares Group, which continues to invest in Knafaim Holdings Ltd, offering ‘military aircraft maintenance services’ to the Israeli Air Force via various maintenance contracts.